Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blogs for School Leaders

There are incredible resources available on some of the blogs designed for principals. Here are some of my favorites.

Get Organized!
Devoted to making life easier through organization and time management this blog is written by Frank Buck author of
Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders.

A Principal’s Reflections
NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and Principal of New Milford (NJ) High School shares his ideas about using technology to improve student learning.

Connected Principals
This site provides a forum for principals to ask questions, share ideas. Each principal has a different experience but the goal is to share best practices and engage in professional learning

Education Week Blogs
Education Week has a whole collection of blogs including leadership, technology, parents and community, charters and school choice, and rural education. They’re updated regularly and are great resources for staying up-to-date.

Even after several years of using the Internet I continue to be amazed at the rich array of resources available online. I hope you find these resources helpful and invite you to share useful resources you’ve found online.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Twitter and the School Leader

I've had a Twitter account for a couple of years but don't ever tweet. That's because I use my account almost exclusively to stay up-to-date on information that improves my work. I'm linked to some of my favorite professional organizations and favorite authors and presenters like Barbara Blackburn and Todd Whitaker. Recently, Todd (@Todd Whitaker), a well known speaker, said "Every school leader should be on Twitter. it is the very best free professional development you'll ever find." He's right. Twitter links me to some of the best ideas available for school leaders and allows me, if I choose, to share ideas and get feedback.

On Twitter you can follow other principals, check in on the latest news from groups like ASCD, eSchoolNews, NASSP, NAESP and others. Through Twitter you can link to their posts and lots of useful information.

Besides your own professional learning Twitter can be used to share information about your school. Separate from your personal account, your school can have a corporate Twitter account. That allows you greater control over the message and the image. Almost every day I learn about how school leaders use Twitter for communication. Here are some examples.

  • Share educational news and articles about your school
  • Tweet photos and brief biographies about new teachers
  • Share information about school closings due to weather
  • Post short videos of school concerts or drama presentations
  • Announce school events and meetings
  • Share the lunch menu
  • Post school sports scores and results

I found that the most difficult decision was to establish my account. After a few days I found that I returned regularly to check out what my favorites were sharing. I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you use Twitter and other forms of social media for your own professional learning or for communication.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Successful Meetings: Standards and Norms

During my career I've attended lots of meetings, some successful and some less successful. I've been fascinated by the difference in outcomes and the way some meetings engage participants and others don't. From my observations I've come to appreciate the way "norms" can shape the work, the way participants interact and ultimately the outcomes.

  • A crucial part of an effective meeting is being clear about outcomes (results) and the process you will use to achieve your outcomes. 
  • It includes basic decision like seating arrangements. If you want open discussion, try and arrange for participants to face one another, perhaps around a table or in a semi-circle. 
  • Set a firm start and end time and stick to them. That shows respect for participant's time. 
  • If the meeting is lengthy, take a break, but again, set a time and adhere to that. 
  • Ask yourself how the group will maintain a "group memory" about decisions. Plan for recording decisions on chart paper or in some other way. 
  • Use a "Parking Lot" to capture ideas that emerge but could be distracting. It allows participants to identify questions and discussion items that can be returned to later.

Perhaps my favorite tool is to have "Norms of Collaboration" that assure the use of open-edned questions, and provide everyone with an opportunity to speak. Garmston & Wellman (1999) wrote about seven norms of collaboration to help facilitate discussion. They include pausing, paraphrasing, probing gently, putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions, paying attention to your own needs and those of others, and pursuing a balance between advocacy and inquiry.  More information about these norms is available from the Center for Adaptive Schools.

Ultimately, successful meetings are interactive and provide for balanced participation. They don't just happen but instead are thoughtfully planned. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your ideas for conducting successful meetings.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Courage to Suspend Entire Football Team

After hearing about cyberbullying by members of the high school football team coach Matt Labrum at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah chose to suspend the entire team and have them turn in their jerseys. They could earn back their jersey and back onto the team through community service among other things. This story from a Salt Lake City television station shares the details. The coach's letter to the team describes the plan. It's an amazing story about a coach, supported by his principal, who had the courage to take a stand against bullying. It's sent a very powerful message to the players, the rest of the student body and through the media to schools across the country.

I'd like to hear what you think about this coach and his choice to suspend the entire team and focus on building character in a positive way.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rethinking the Structure of Your School

The structure of the school day can either support your learning program or be an impediment to its success. Too often we think of the school schedule, and other organizational arrangements, as merely a "fact of life." We take them for granted. But, in reality, they are useful tools for helping a school leader make their school a powerful place for learning. Here are a few things to consider.

  • A common way to promote collaboration in elementary school is to locate classrooms of the same grade together. Teachers can work with one another, share materials and support the work. But in one elementary school I visited each wing contained a classroom from each grade level. This arrangement provided for interaction among the grades and eased grouping and regrouping for instruction.
  • Many middle schools, and some high schools, organize teachers into instructional teams, a group of teachers who share students and have common planning time. Teams do not magically achieve results but when teachers use the majority of their common plan to work on curricular and instructional issues it can have a positive impact on student learning and school climate.
  • Some large schools organize into schools-within-a-school. Teachers often have common planning and time to work on instructional improvement. There's real evidence that small schools can positively impact student learning and sustain positive relationships among students and with adults.
  • One high school I visited in suburban Chicago reorganized departmental offices. Math and science teachers shared an office and their classrooms were adjacent. Similarly, language arts and social studies teachers shared an office and adjacent classrooms. The principal found that proximity created opportunities for teachers to learn from one another and to build relationships, relationships that led to interdisciplinary activities across content areas.

Too often the focus of a school's schedule is on the logistics of the day. More important is to take time to create a shared vision of what your schedule might achieve. Clarity about vision and purpose means that you can design a schedule to achieve that vision. Otherwise your schedule is merely a plan for the organization of students and teachers.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about the structure of your school and how you use structure to positively impact student learning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dealing with Rumors Spawned by Social Media

Social media is a powerful communication tool but one of its detriment is the ability to spawn rumors. Rumors spread quickly via texts, Twitter or Facebook and can quickly overwhelm a school's ability to respond. Often they take on a life of their own and, accurate or not, require some sort of response. Many school leaders are uncertain about how to respond or how to use communication tools to put the rumors to rest. The National School Public Relations Association asked that question to a group of principals and found some interesting approaches.

  • It is important to get timely and accurate information to key audiences quickly. Always make a cognitive, rather than emotional, response to rumors. Just the facts.
  • Assure students, families and communities that you are aware of the rumor, are investigating, and will deal with it so that you maintain a safe school environment.
  • Ask for specific details about any rumors that people may have heard. This will help with your assessment and response.
  • Communicate quickly when a situation happens and notify parents and community rapidly. Don't let the message, and associated rumors, get spread by neighbors of the school, by students or others.
  • Create a "Fact Check" site on your school's website and let people know that is where they can either go for information or to post a rumor and get a response.
  • Recognize the importance of redundant dissemination of information. Everyone doesn't get their information from the same source and today social media is one of the primary sources of information for many people.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you deal with rumors and how you respond to the ideas from the National School Public Relations Association.